Monday, August 04, 2008

Testing the Waters
The following is a revision of a memo I sent to clergy and musicians at my parish in a preparatory effort to start a dialogue among both ministries that will lead to more consistency among both celebrants' and musical leaderships' performance practices at Sunday Mass.

In this excerpt from the 1967 edition of Musica Sacram (Sacred Music- which is an authoritative document authored by commission of the Second Vatican Council) I want to share some guiding principles that govern how we approach our respective duties in the Sacred Liturgy. My personal commentary will be noted by italicized portions in blue.

28. The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n. 3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. However, for the sung Mass (Missa cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness, so that it may become easier to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful by singing, according to the capabilities of each congregation.

These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led towards an ever greater participation in the singing.

29. The following belong to the first degree:

(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer. *For the celebrant, this means the “In nomine Patris”…and the Opening Prayer should be sung, or cantillated.
(b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel. *This means the verse sung between the intonation of the Gospel Acclamations, not the ‘Alleluia’ per se.”
.(c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord's prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

It is not an incorrect assumption if one notices that these first degree requirements fall upon the celebrant; this degree’s purpose thus sets the “tone” of solemnity for a sung Mass right from the entrance and opening rites. If the priest-celebrant initiates this tone consistently, the response of the Faithful should successfully follow. We at St. Mary’s already know this to be true as it is successfully practiced by our pastor and vicars. However, its consistent usage at ALL sung Masses is at issue- this is currently not done. I make this observation not to be critical of a lack of consistency, but to simply point out the Church’s will in these most important matters. One should also notice, that the highest priority of any movement in the Mass Ordinary is the Holy (Sanctus.) Basically this means, in the absence of all other factors, these musical items of the First Degree must be sung, even at the expense of other more familiar and regular items throughout the liturgy.
Lastly, we notice that the singing of the Lord’s Prayer is not commonly taken up in our parishes in the decades since Vatican II. More to follow on this.

30. The following belong to the second degree:

(a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;
(b) the Creed;
(c) the prayer of the faithful.

One notices immediately that with those movements in “a” we are and have been in compliance both with choral and canted Masses insofar as congregational participation is concerned, and in the case of the early morning Sunday Mass, we are still in compliance if those in “a” are not being sung. Please also make a mental note that in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) the singing of the Gloria and the Agnus Dei have performance options, namely: 1. sung in their entirety by all; 2. sung by the choir/cantor/song leader/presider alone, in which the participation of the Faithful is enacted by their common “hearing” of those movements; and 3. in antiphonal style, where the choir and congregation alternate certain portions of these movements.

Then we should note that at our local parishes that we do not generally comply with degree items “b” and “c.”
Regarding the singing of the Creed- in my nearly 40 years of parish music ministry I have never experienced the demand or practice to sing the Credo. And, frankly, outside of the Credo of the Missa de Angelis (with its familiar melodic motives) there are few settings that a average American congregation could take up and master. Settings that use refrains or ostinato (mantras) are generally found wanting in terms of the magnitude of each of the Faithful’s obligation to profess the faith. “Credo” obviously means “I believe,” not “We believe on your behalf.” It is an unwieldy issue and, like all of these issues, one that we must ultimately defer to our pastor. But I bring it to all our attentions out of respect for the document and our faithful calling as music ministry.
Regarding the singing of the Prayer of the Faithful: because we have a plenitude of deacons and this prayer is their provenance, it would be ideal if they could, as best they could, intone these prayers. In their absence, normative practice has the lay lectors declaiming the intentions with a spoken response. If we in both the clergy and music take up this concern, there are a number of options that could maintain the lector’s participation and add the musical component to the responses.
At this point it might be opportune to remind ourselves that we Catholics do not “sing at the Mass,” we actually just “sing the Mass.” That is the over-arching reality that in practice has not yet been fully realized in most American parish practices.

31. The following belong to the third degree:

(a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;
(b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle;
(c) the Alleluia {and Lenten Gospel Acclamation} before the Gospel;
(d) the song at the Offertory
(e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.

*Equally noticeable of these items listed in the third tier, is that these are the sung portions of the Mass we are most familiar and comfortable performing. The only item that does not receive attention here is “e,” with the sole exception of those years in which the Passion Readings were cantillated on Passion Sunday and Good Friday.

However, there is a great deal of information to be considered, deliberated and put into play regarding items “a-d.” that is discussed below and in even more detail in the GIRM. If both clergy and music ministry remain unaware of the hierarchies and principles in these documents (as well as the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy {CSL} and the Motu Proprios of Piux X and Benedict XVI {Tra le sollectunedi [TSL] and Summorum Pontificum [SP] respectively}) then we run a certain risk of missing the mark by omission and, worse, by commission if decisions contrary to the documents are utilized from local convention.
But, again I reiterate that the sole authority to decide on these matters remains our pastor. One should not presume that any sole practitioner is granted authority to over-ride current practice here because of the prevalent authority of the Vatican documents. We, as lay ministers, are obliged to recognize the prevalent hierarchies both in the offices of the clergy as well as the canonical documents.

32. The custom legitimately in use in certain places and widely confirmed by indults, of substituting other songs for the songs given in the Graduale for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion, can be retained according to the judgment of the competent territorial authority, as long as songs of this sort are in keeping with the parts of the Mass, with the feast or with the liturgical season. It is for the same territorial authority to approve the texts of these songs.

*Basically, this means the Bishop to the parish pastor, who then invest these decision processes to the agencies of Director of Music, Choirmasters, Songleaders, etc. If one is not familiar with exactly what a Graduale is, this refers to the organization of appointed antiphons and sung verses primarily culled from the Psalms that are assigned specifically to every Mass for every day and feast of the Church Calendar Year. In the years since Vatican II, and arguably before that council, world-wide (not just American) practice of this was, at best, nominal and more like helter-skelter. In the American Church, a common perception is that the earliest reforms within the vernacular Mass resulted in the “Four Hymn Sandwich” mode initially, with the other portions such as the Ordinary, litanies and acclamations folded in over time.

33. It is desirable that the assembly of the faithful should participate in the songs of the Proper as much as possible, especially through simple responses and other suitable settings.

This is currently not the standard practice in our parishes and virtually the vast majority of American parishes and even cathedrals/basilicas. We need not bang ourselves over the head about not knowing, teaching or doing these most native Roman forms as the reality of the replacement of Mass sung and heard in Latin by vernacular languages took over so pervasively that any vernacular settings of the Propers of the Mass {the Introit, the Gradual, Sequences, the Offertorium and the Communio} have remained quite inaccessible and not widely promulgated by both publishing houses and the U.S. Bishops and their liturgical agencies. The Gradual is the rough equivalent of what we commonly call the Responsorial Psalm.

The song after the lessons, be it in the form of gradual or responsorial psalm, has a special importance among the songs of the Proper. By its very nature, it forms part of the Liturgy, of the Word. It should be performed with all seated and listening to it—and, what is more, participating in it as far as possible.

34. The songs which are called the "Ordinary of the Mass," if they are sung by musical settings written for several voices may be performed by the choir according to the customary norms, either a capella, or with instrumental accompaniment, as long as the people are not completely excluded from taking part in the singing.

I only underscore that instruction so that we can commonly acknowledge that the Council documents do not support wholly interior, or passive participation (listening that is dubbed participation actuoso) at the expense of their right to actually engage in singing their assigned parts (participation actuosa.)

In other cases, the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass can be divided between the choir and the people or even between two sections of the people themselves: one can alternate by verses, or one can follow other suitable divisions which divide the text into larger sections. In these cases, the following points are to be noted: it is preferable that the Creed, since it is a formula of profession of faith, should be sung by all, or in such a way as to permit a fitting participation by the faithful; it is preferable that the Sanctus, as the concluding acclamation of the Preface, should normally be sung by the whole congregation together with the priest; the Agnus Dei may be repeated as often as necessary, especially in concelebrations, where it accompanies the Fraction; it is desirable that the people should participate in this song, as least by the final invocation.

The extension of the singing of the Agnus Dei by what is known as troping, is not an ideal solution to the problem of the extended time required for the Fraction Rites, particularly when Communion is being prepared for distribution under both forms. Troping is when one assigns a different nominal symbol for the term “Lamb of God,” such as “Bread of Life…..Prince of Peace…..Lord of Light….etc.” It is not unconstitutional to utilize troping, but it is problematic because different musical settings that are used locally are not all equipped for the imposition of troped invocations.
Ideally, the celebrant(s) should make a concerted effort to complete the actions of the Fraction Rite in as timely a manner as possible. Extending the time allotted the Greeting of Peace does not aid in this process, but creates a “faux” liturgical moment for which there is no officially prescribed music.

35. The Lord's Prayer is best performed by the people together with the priest.[22]

Again, as in the issue of the singing of the Creed, our common practice which has been publicly stated by our pastor and nearly every pastor I have been privileged to work under, is that the Lord’s Prayer be recited as that enables the entire congregation of lay and clerical Faithful to vocally participate in the one prayer authored by our Lord Jesus Christ. Speaking only for myself, I understand that rationale completely and have abided by the dictum articulated by our pastor for its recitation faithfully.
However I have to declare that a recent experience here at St. Mary’s reinforced my own personal appreciation for chanting the Lord’s Prayer in the quasi-chant setting in the hymnal commonly called the “Snow setting.” When a visiting missioner priest was with us a couple of week’s ago as celebrant as well as homilist, he intoned the collect with the “exhortation” to join in singing “the Lord’s Prayer” which all then did quite well. For me, personally, it was sublime on many levels. There is something to be considered when the celebrant as being both alter Christi and in persona Christi as his office demands “commands” the chanting of the prayer according to the oldest traditions of the Church. There is also a very unifying “effect” among the Faithful when the prayer is sung; what I would simply declare a tangible edification of the truly communal nature of the whole Mass. It’s particular significance is similar to that of how singing the Alleluia presages the proclamation of Christ’s words as Gospel, the Communion present in the Logos, the Living Word of God. So, after the assent to the Eucharistic Prayer with the Great Amen, the unique manner in which the prayer is chanted (as opposed to a song version that has a time or meter assigned) has, to me, a unique and thrilling link to all of Catholic Christendom both now and in all ages past. It can certainly be argued that after singing any version of the Great Amen, especially in the post-concilliar liturgical opinions that the Amen was an apex moment in the Liturgy, a sort of “relief” from singing is required until the Agnus Dei. My personal response to that mode of thought is that it reflects the “singing at Mass” ethos rather than the “singing THE Mass” ideal.

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